Home > Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(11)

Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(11)
Author: Anne Rice

And most especially, and important to me, I could see the town itself, directly below me, shaped like a great eye - an oval with tapered ends - with random torches burning here and there, and an occasional dimly lighted window, and I could see a lantern moving slowly as someone walked in a leisurely pace down one of the thoroughfares.

No sooner had I seen this moving lantern than it went out. It seemed the streets were utterly deserted.

Then the windows too went dark, and very shortly there were not four torches that I could see anywhere.

This darkness had a calming effect on me. The open country sank into a deep dark tinge of blue beneath the pearly heavens, and I could see the forests encroaching on the tilled land, creeping higher here and there, as the hills folded over one another or sank steeply into valleys of pure blackness. I could hear the total emptiness of the tower.

Nothing stirred now, not even the birds. I was quite alone. I could have heard the slightest footfall on the stairs down below. No one knew I was here. All slept. I was safe here. And I could keep a vigil.

I was too full of misery to be frightened, and frankly I was prepared to take my stand against Ursula in this spot, preferred it, in fact, to the confines of the Inn, and I feared nothing as I said my prayers and laid my hand on my sword as usual.

What did I expect to see in this sleeping town? Anything that happened in it.

Now, what did I think that was to be? I couldn't have told anyone. But as I circled the room, as I glanced again and again down at the few scattered lights below and the hulk of the descending ramparts beneath the glowing summer sky, the place seemed loathsome, full of deceit, full of witchcraft, full of payment to the Devil.

"You think I don't know where your unwanted babies are taken?" I muttered in a rage. "You think that people who are down with the plague are welcomed right through the open gates of your neighboring cities?"

I was startled by the echoes of my own murmurings off the cold walls.

"But what do you do with them, Ursula? What would you have done with my brother and sister?"

My ruminations were madness perhaps, or might have seemed so to some. But I learnt this. Revenge takes one's mind from the pain. Revenge is a lure, a mighty molten lure, even if it is hopeless.

One blow from this sword and I can strike off her head, I thought, and heave it out that window, and then what will she be but a demon stripped of all worldly power? Now and then I half-drew my sword, then put it back. I took out my longest dagger and slapped the palm of my left hand with its blade. I never stopped walking.

Suddenly, as I made one of my boring circumlocutions, I happened to spy far away, on a distant mountain, in which direction I really didn't know - but not the direction by which I had come - a great quantity of light playing behind the mesh of the sylvan darkness.

At first I thought this might be a fire, there was so much light, but as I narrowed my eyes and focused my mind, I saw that this was out of the question.

There was no riotous glare on the few visible clouds above, and the illumination, for all the breadth of it, was contained as if it emanated from a vast congregation gathered together with a fantastical quantity of candles. How steady yet pulsing was this orgy of fierce light!

I felt a chill in my bones as I looked at it. It was a dwelling! I leant over the window edge. I could see its complex and sprawling outline! It stood out from all the land, this one luxuriantly lighted castle, all by itself, and obviously visible from one entire side of this town, this spectacle of forest-shrouded house in which some celebration appeared to require that every torch and taper be lighted, that every window, battlement and coping be hung with lanterns.

North, yes, north, for the town dropped straight off behind me, and this castle lay north, and it was that direction of which I'd been warned, and who in this town could not have known of this place, yet there had not been one single solitary mention save for the whisper of the terrified Franciscan in the Inn at my table.

But what was I looking at? What could I see? Thick woods, yes; it was very high but surrounded by close and concealing woods, through which its light again and again palpitated like a great menace, but what was that coming from it, what was that wild, half-visible movement in the darkness, over the slopes that fell away from the mysterious promontory?

Were there things moving in the night? Moving from that very distant castle right towards this village? Amorphous black things, as if they were great soft shapeless birds following the alignment of the land but free of its gravity. Were they coming towards me? Had I been charmed? No, I saw this. Or did I? There were dozens of them! They were coming closer and closer.

They were tiny shapes, not large at all, the largeness having been a delusion caused by the fact that they traveled in packs, these things, and now, as they came near to the town, the packs broke apart and I saw them springing up to the very walls beyond me on either side like so many giant moths. I turned around and ran to the window.

They had descended in a swarm upon the town! I could see them dip down and vanish in the blackness. Below me on the piazza, there appeared two black shapes, men in streaming capes, who ran or rather leapt into the mouths of the streets, issuing from their lips an audible and audacious laughter. I heard crying in the night, I heard sobs. I heard a thin wail, and a muffled groan. No lights appeared in the town.

Then out of the darkness, these evil things appeared again, on the tops of the walls, running right on the edge and then leaping free. "God, I see you! Curse you!" I whispered.

There was a sudden loud noise in my ears, a great brush of soft cloth against me, and then the figure of a man reared up before my face.

"Do you see us, my boy?" It was a young man's voice, hearty, full of merriment. "My very curious little boy?"

He was too close for my sword. I could see nothing but rising garments.

With my elbow and shoulder and all my strength, I went for his groin. His laughter filled the tower.

"Ah, but that does not hurt me, child, and if you're so curious, well then, we'll take you too with us to come and see what you long to see."

He caught me in a suffocating swaddle of fabric. And suddenly I felt myself lifted off the floor, encased in a sack, and I knew we had left the tower!

I was head down, sick to nausea. It seemed he flew, carrying me on his back, and his laughter was now half blown away by the wind, and I could not free my arms. I could feel my sword, but couldn't reach the handle.

Desperately I felt for my dagger, not the one which I must have dropped when I had been caught by him, but the other in my boot, and then having that, I twisted and turned towards the rough back on which I rode, bouncing and growling, and plunged the dagger through the cloth over and over again. He gave a wild scream. I stabbed him again.

My whole body, inside the sack, was whipped up into the air, away from him.

"You little monster," he cried. "You wretched impudent child."

We descended sharply, and then I felt myself hit the ground, the rocky grassy ground, and I rolled over, tearing at the fabric of the blinding sack with my knife. "You little bastard," he cursed.

"Are you bleeding, you filthy devil?" I called out. ¡°Are you?" I ripped at the sack, lost in it, rolling over and over, then feeling the wet grass with my na**d hand. I saw the stars.

Then the cloth was torn free of my struggling limbs. I lay at his feet, but only for a moment.

Chapter Six

THE COURT OF THE RUBY GRAIL

NOTHING could have wrenched the dagger from my hand. I cut deep into his legs, bringing forth another riot of I screams from him. He picked me up, indeed hurled me high in the air, and I fell, stunned, onto the dewy ground.

This gave me my first blurred but imperative glimpse of him. A great rush of red light illuminated him, a hooded and cloaked figure dressed as a knight, in long old-fashioned tunic and sleeves of shining mail. He twisted his torso, his golden hair tangling over his face, obviously in pain from the wounds inflicted on his back, and now stomped his wounded leg.

I rolled over twice, holding tight to the dagger, as I freed my sword sufficiently to draw it out of the scabbard. I was on my feet before he even so much as moved, and swung the sword with one hand, clumsily, but with all my force, hearing it smash into his side with a sickening moist slosh of a sound. The gush of blood in the bright light was horrific and monstrous.

There came his worst cry. He fell to his knees.

"Help me, you imbeciles; he's a devil!" he screamed. His hood fell back.

I scanned the immense fortifications rising to my right, the high crenelated towers with their fluttering flags in the unsteady glow of countless lights, just as I'd glimpsed from the distance of the town. It was a fantastical castle of pointed roofs, sharply broken arched windows, and high battlements crowded with dark figures moving in silhouette as they looked down on our struggle.

There came rushing down the wet grass the figure of Ursula in a red gown, cloakless, her hair in long braids with red ribbon, rushing towards me.

"Don't hurt him, I charge you," she screamed. "Don't touch him."

A group of male figures, all got up in the same old-fashioned knightly tunics, down to their knees, with somber pointed steel helmets, followed her. They had bearded faces all, and ghastly white skin.

My adversary pitched forward on the grass, sprouting blood as if he were a hideous fountain. "Look what he's done to me, look!" he shouted.

I stuck my dagger in my belt, grabbed the sword with two hands and went at his neck, letting a roar escape my teeth as I did, and saw the head roll over and over and down the hill. "Ah, now you're dead, you're bloody dead!" I cried out. "You murderous fiend, you're dead. Go get your head. Put that back on!" Ursula flung her arms around me, her br**sts sealed against my back. Her hand imprisoned mine once more and forced me to bow the tip of the sword to the ground.

"Don't touch him," she screamed again, with a threat in her voice. "Don't come near, I charge you."

One of the others had recovered the shaggy blond head of my foe and held it up as the others watched the body twitch and writhe. "Oh, no, it's too late," said one of the men.

"No, put it back, put it on his neck," cried another.

"Let me go, Ursula," I said. "Let me die with honor, will you do me that courtesy!" I struggled. "Let me free, to die in my own way, will you do that much?"

"No," she said hotly into my ear. "I will not."

I was absolutely powerless against her strength, no matter how soft the cushion of her br**sts or how cool and soft her fingers. She had complete mastery of me. "Go to Godric," cried one of the men.

The other two had picked up the writhing, kicking, headless man. "Take him to Godric," said the one who carried the head. "Only Godric can pronounce on this."

Ursula let out a loud wail. "Godric!" It was like the howl of the wind or a beast, it was so shrill, so immense, echoing off the walls.

High up, against the wide gaping arched doorway of the citadel, his back to the light, there stood a slender elderly figure, limbs bent with age.

"Bring them both," he called out. "Ursula, quiet yourself, lest you frighten everyone."

I made a swift bid for freedom. She tightened her grip. There came the pinprick of her teeth in my neck. "Oh, no, Ursula, let me see what's to happen!" I whispered. But I could feel the murky clouds rising about me, as though the air itself had thickened and was enfolding me with scent and sound and the sensuous force.

Oh, love you, want you, yes, I did and can't deny it. I felt myself holding her in the high moist grasses of the field, and she lay beneath me, but these were dreams and there were no wild red flowers, and I was being taken somewhere, and she had but weakened me, pulled on my heart with the force of her own.

I tried to curse her. All around us lay the flowers and the grasses, and she said, "Run," but this was quite impossible because it was not made of truth, but of fantasy and the sucking of her mouth on me and her limbs entwining me as if she were a serpent.

A French castle. It was as though I had been transported to the north. I had opened my eyes. All the accoutrements of a French court.

Even the dim sedate music which I could hear made me think of old-fashioned French songs sung at suppers in long-ago childhood.

I awoke, sitting cross-legged on a carpet, slumped over, and came to myself rubbing my neck and feeling about desperately for weapons which had all been taken from me. I nearly lost my balance and fell backward.

The music was repetitive and dull and pounding as it rose up from some faraway place below, with too many muffled drums and the thin nasal whine of horns. It had no melody.

I looked up. French, yes, the high narrow pointed archway that led to a long balcony outside, below which some great celebration was in noisy progress. Fancy French, the tapestries of the ladies with their tall cone-shaped hats, and their snow-white unicorns.

Quaint antique, like the illustrations in prayer books of courts in which poets sat reading aloud the boring and tedious Roman de la Rose, or the fables of Reynard the Fox.

The window was draped in blue satin covered in the fleurs-de-lys. There was old filigree crumbling about the high doorway and what I could see of the window frame. And cabinets were gilded and painted in the French style, decayed and stiff. I turned around.

There stood the two men, their long tunics streaked with blood, and their mail sleeves coarse and thick. They had taken off their pointed helmets, and they stared at me with icy pale eyes, each a solemn bearded figure. The light positively glinted on their hard white skin.

And there stood Ursula, a silver-framed jewel upon the shadows, gazing down at me, her gown high-waisted and soft-falling and old-fashioned as their clothes, as though she too had come from some long-ago kingdom of the French, her snow-white br**sts bare almost to her ni**les, beneath a rich full little bodice of flowered red-and-gold velvet.

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